Back in May, I watched a small group of Brazilian youths demonstrate the boxing skills they had been developing at Grupo Cultural Arte Consciente, an incredible organization rooted in one of Salvador's favelas (shantytown communities).
As part of this special program, Arts Consciente's boxers had selected this discipline from several offered to them - the others being circus arts, percussion, and drumming. And over the course of about an hour, I'd been introduced to the results of all these youngsters' efforts. But given that I was about a week and a half away from dedicating four months to boxing (a sport I knew very little about), I found myself focusing my attention on the boxing group.
After about an hour, an opportunity for questions and answers arose, and I eagerly raised my hand right away.
"Hi, my name is Vickie, and I have a question for the boxers," I said with a smile. "I'm about to learn how to box when I get back to the United States. What tips do the boxing students have for me? What should I make sure to remember as I learn?"
My trip leader translated my inquiry into Portuguese, and I saw several inquisitive faces turn to me in surprise, including my favorite of the group - the lone young girl learning to box. She and I exchanged smiles as a young teenage boy, the seemingly group-appointed leader of the crew, thought for a moment and then answered.
I eagerly awaited the translation as my trip leader chuckled.
"He says that there are several things you should remember," he began. "First, always pay attention to the basics and remain disciplined. The basics are important. Second, always listen to your instructor, because your teachers will help you succeed."
The trip leader grinned. "And finally, just remember: It's really not that hard. You're going to do just fine."
I had no way of knowing at the time just how valuable this advice would be. Over the course of four months, I've reminded myself of each. ... and especially that last bit.
Relax. It's all good. You're going to do just fine.
Obgrigado, young man. Obrigado, indeed.
It's early morning in a misty Rio de Janeiro when you wake early to the sound of the waves rolling into Copacabana Beach. Despite the urge to sleep in, or at least let this oceanic soundtrack lull you back into light dozing, you rise and don your workout gear. There's a long to-do list for the day - from greeting Christ the Redeemer to filling a memory card with photos - and you want to start it all off right.
Tiptoeing out of your hotel room to keep from waking your roommate, you make your way down to the hotel lobby, join your partners in crime, and set off for a light run along the beach. Mosaic paths lead the way as you travel along fellow morning runners (a group with which you'll only align yourself rarely), past massive sandcastles, and along the stretches of beachfront properly that drew Hollywood legends to South America.
This is your first full day in Brazil. And while you know that wonders await, you have no idea precisely how magical an experience you have in store.